A System of Negativity

Consider nihilism as a system of negativity. Rather than no system or anti-system, or the standard sort of system of theorem built upon axiom, et cetera, it is a system of contradiction, where each principle is canceled out by another, every theory perfectly balanced by another opposing until there is nothing left, or that the web of confusion grows so tangled that one is driven to the nihilistic act, where one has nothing left but to obliterate and wipe away the whole lot of ideas. Now consider the following two passages from Dostoevsky’s Notes from the Underground:

… on coming home on one of the foulest nights in Petersburg, I used to realize intensely that again I had been guilty of some particularly dastardly action that day, and that once more it was no earthly use crying over spilt milk; and inwardly, secretly, I used to go on nagging myself, worrying myself, accusing myself, till at last the bitterness I felt turned into a sort of shameful, damnable sweetness and finally, into real, positive delight!

Well, let us now have a look at this mouse inaction. Let us suppose, for instance, that its feelings are hurt (and its feelings are almost always hurt), and that it also wants to avenge itself. There will perhaps be a greater accumulation of spite in it than in l’homme de la nature et de la vérité. A nasty, mean little desire to repay whoever has ofended it in his own coin stirs within it more nasty perhaps than in l’homme de la nature et de la vérité; for because of his inborn stupidity l’homme de la nature et de la vérité looks upon his revenge merely as a matter of justice whereas because of its intense sensibility the mouse denies that there is any question of justice here. At last we come to the business itself, to the act of revenge. The unhappy mouse has already succeeded in piling up — in the form of questions and doubts — a large number of dirty tricks in addition to its original dirty trick; it has accumulated such a large number of insoluble questions round every one question that it is drowned in a sort of deadly brew, a stinking puddle made up of doubts, its flurries of emotion, and lastly, the contempt with which the plain men of action cover it from head to foot while they stand solemnly round as judges and dictators and split their sides with laughter at it. Well, of course, all that is left for it to do is to dismiss it with a disdainful wave of its little paw and with a smile of simulated contempt, in which it does not believe itself, and to scurry back ingloriously into its hole.

After reading Notes from the Underground it is hard not to see Nietzsche as at least partially derivative. Nietzsche was reading Dostoevsky in the years 1886-1887, including Notes from the Underground. Nietzsche wrote On the Genealogy of Morals during 1887 and it is Dostoevsky’s narrator from Notes from the Underground who is the patient that Nietzsche has on he sofa in On the Genealogy of Morals. The difference is that while Nietzsche shares Dostoevsky’s diagnosis of the sickness of the West, Dostoevsky is nostalgic for Christianity and nationalism, whereas Nietzsche advocates an experimentalism and futurism of pressing boldly on.